- Consilia sapientis amici: Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Foundation of the Evangelical Counsels in Theological Anthropology by Viktória Hedvig Deák
A doctoral dissertation rarely merits a book review, but it does when there is a gap in knowledge in a particular theological branch, as is the case today concerning the evangelical counsels. The author of this work, a Hungarian Dominican Sister, has written an exceedingly comprehensive book on St. Thomas Aquinas's understanding of the counsels of Christ, our friend—as Aquinas often calls him in his writings. Her secondary sources are too plentiful to mention in a book review, but a major mentor in this theological area is Servais Pinckaers. Deak is somewhat critical of the views of Francisco Suarez, Karl Rahner, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on this topic.
This is a masterful book about the great counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience as linked intimately with the precepts or commandments of God. All of the counsels, including the evangelical ones, are meant to be understood as advice even for those not called to religious life. When the counsels are activated by the decision of a human person, they normally facilitate the living of the precepts and at the same time, in the higher stages of the spiritual life, express a deep intensification of divine love when the occasion to make an act of supererogation demands it. Possible works beyond what is obligatory emerge more profoundly as one grows in the virtues, and they become inner demands for the person "madly" in love with God. For the less advanced, the counsels act as healing agents sweeping aside excessive anxiety or solicitude for the goods of this world, that is, material goods, married life, and the desire to control one's life, often called self-determination, and autonomy. The desires associated with these goods usually become unnecessary or excessive, making growth in divine love more difficult to achieve because the mind becomes cluttered and unable to concentrate on God, the friend and lover. Thus, these counsels are not principles of life extrinsic to the commandments, [End Page 151] nor are they meant exclusively for those consecrated by vows. Whether in the state of religion or marriage, all are called to holiness, which means seeking the perfection of infused charity. Acts that flow from the counsels produce a lived freedom for intimacy with the Triune God.
Deák is careful to show that for Thomas the obstacles to life are not created goods, but extreme anxiety over or excessive desire for them. Not being able to manage solicitudo (major distractions, tensions, worries, and the like) tends to reduce the ability of the human person to contemplate God and so grow in charity. However, when adopted the counsels heal many false desires and so reduce the anxieties hindering the thirst for truth and goodness embedded in the love for God. Chastity (continence), recognized today as the foundation of consecrated life, is therefore natural to some because the desire for contemplation as such is a natural inclination. While for Thomas, poverty becomes the foundation of religious life, the virginal life is well appreciated in his writings. For instance, in his definition of religious life at the beginning of the Pars prima of his Contra impugnantes, he gives chastity top billing, listing and treating the counsels in the order chastity, poverty, and obedience. Later on he will change that order to poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Deák examines all of the relevant major works of Thomas to show his many insights, but she especially relies on his commentaries on John's Gospel, Paul's Epistles, Peter Lombard's Sentences, and Pseudo-Dionysius's On the Divine Names. In other words, her tome opens a gold mine of Thomas's thought, and in addition it discusses a wide swath of secondary literature of Thomists as well as the writings of St. Bonaventure and the adversaries...